"God is love"
I John 4:8 & 16
Is Jesus the most controversial figure in the world today? Does anyone else's name arouse more questions, more love, more division? Even in cultures that are counted Christian, a majority of people would question whether He is the Divine Son of God - by no means all accept His Gospel. Among other religions, Muslims and Jews for instance do not accept Him as their leader, clearly. However, Muslims recognize Him as being a major prophet, and Jews regard Him as an excellent teacher. Between people of all faiths, and none, the debate continues. And sometimes it seems there are more shades of opinion about Christ-related matters than about anything else!
The bare facts about Him are simply stated. The Bible record tells us that He was born of His Mother Mary, in Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago. He was brought up as a Jew in Nazareth; He worked in the family trade as a carpenter. He then changed to a life of ministry, and for 3½ years He would go about His native Land preaching, teaching and healing the people.
His public ministry began when John baptized Him in the River Jordan, and God's Holy Spirit descended on Him there. He chose 12 disciples - people privileged to walk and talk with the greatest Man Who ever lived! The Twelve were His friends - they helped Him in many ways, and He worked a transformation in their lives. They received His words more fully than anyone else, and we can see from the New Testament (NT) what outstanding people they became as a result.
The Jews were used to worshiping "Yahweh" (or, Jehovah), the God of Israel - a God of Majesty and Power. But Jesus taught that we should look on Jehovah as a loving Heavenly Father, a Father Who delights in extending to us the Kingdom of God. Jesus often talked about this Kingdom, using the simple words of a story (or parable), to show us what it is like.
A large following came to believe what Jesus was saying to them. He could have turned this influence with the people into a challenge to the occupying power. For Israel (or "Palestina" as its rulers later called it) was by now part of the mighty Roman empire. Jesus made it clear though, that His Mission was not to proclaim rebellion against the Romans. Instead, He preached a Gospel of kindness, teaching people how to live a life of consistent goodness, showing us how to love unconditionally.
^ He carried this belief to its ultimate conclusion, when the Jewish hierarchy moved against Him and the Roman governor duly cooperated, sentencing Him to crucifixion. And so, a bachelor in His thirties, Jesus was (according to eyewitnesses) killed on a cross at Calvary, just outside Jerusalem.
Important Note. We see from our standpoint of today, how tragically this initiative turned out in Jewish history. For it was latched onto later in "Christian countries," and used to justify all kinds of persecution of Jews - even stooping to massacres, and worst of all, the Holocaust. The Church must bear responsibility for this, and we Christians should seek to make amends for all the monstrous deeds done to Jews in the Name of Christ.
While Jesus said He was the Son of God, the truth and wonder of this did not fully enter the hearts of those Jews who were in power - He was not "received" by them (John 1:11-12). They were willing therefore, to class Him as a blasphemer. Indeed, if He was not truly the Son of God, then He would have been guilty of blasphemy. Christians believe His word on this, but we should have remembered His other words:
"... love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:39 (NAS 1975) "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you,
and pray for those who mistreat you."
Luke 6:27-28 (TEV)
He told us to forgive our brother:
"... not seven times, but seventy times seven!"
Matthew 18:22 (PME)
How can these loving precepts be made the authority for pogroms? Jesus forgave His accusers, yet we who claim to follow Him have turned round and attacked Jews unmercifully, down through the centuries. We have acted as if His commandments and lifegiving words mean nothing. We ought to be appalled at this.
Right there at the Cross, surely, Christianity would have died, if Jesus had been just a man. As Gamaliel pointed out in the Jewish council, there had been other leaders who had attracted a following. These were stirring times, after all. But those groups had split up after their leaders had gone. This renowned Jewish teacher indicated that if God was not with this man, Jesus, there was no way His sect could amount to anything. (Please see Acts 5:34-40.)
But Christianity is still here. Indeed the official number(1) of people who profess the Christian faith is greater than that of any other religion in the world. It is estimated that just under a third of the world's people are classed as Christian. (Interestingly, in these days of unbelief, the second largest religion - Islam - has more adherents than does that group of people who consider themselves as having no religion.)
1. His followers carried out His Teaching so faithfully.
His followers continued to live the way He had taught them. They too were misused, despised by the very people they tried to help. The difficulties they would face are hinted at in the beautiful prayer recorded in Acts 4:24-30. Verse 28 (TLB) reads: "They won't stop at anything that you in your wise power will let them do."
But instead of lashing back, they went calmly on with what they had to do, and were martyred, many of them, despite their goodness. They went far beyond what we would expect of normal human beings - they paid an extraordinary price just to please a leader who was no longer physically present! By these means they built the Church. We can be thankful that they wrote down His teachings, giving us the record of that unique ministry on Earth.
2. The believers had supernatural power.
When Jesus was arrested His disciples fled, but Jesus did not abandon them. In the accounts of His ministry (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we can read of Jesus rising from the grave, appearing to many of His followers, and giving them fresh heart (please see for example, Luke 24:32).
Then fifty days after His Crucifixion, God's Promise to the disciples was delivered (Acts 1:4-5 and Acts 2). When Jesus' followers were assembled together, all present were filled with the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by their being heard to speak in "tongues" - languages they didn't know. This "simultaneous translation" of God's message blessed the many foreigners who were there. (Sadly, others who heard doubted their ears.)
However there could be no doubting the Miracles which followed. A lame beggar was healed, and the apostles were hauled into court! (For stating that it was "the name of Jesus" that gave access to God's Healing Power.) Please see Acts 3-4.
Drawing 2-1. Healing in Action
Because we now have peace generally, between the Church and civic powers, we tend to forget how terrible was the persecution of the early believers. The very fact that the Christian Church exists at all today testifies to supernatural Power. How long can ordinary men and women keep up a stance of unconditional love to all and sundry when they are being trodden under? Killing Christians became a top spectator sport in Rome, and still the Church survived! Indeed the Jewish scholar, Chaim Potok(2), claims that: "This act of persecution ... excited pity for the newly formed Christian community in Rome."
^ From the first Jewish congregations the Church reached out to the Gentiles also - the two saints, Peter and Paul, leading heroic missionary campaigns. The disciples compiled the New Testament (NT), and thereby nourished the fledgling Church. Their gospel messages, epistles, and other writings combined with the Jewish Bible to give humankind the Christian Bible. And if we'll let it, this Bible can still nurture us and carry us forward today.
3. This power was an extension of Jesus' Miraculous Power.
The wonderful Power that accompanied the growth of the early Church was not something unknown to the apostles. It was an extension of the Grace that His ministry had received. John the Baptizer witnessed about Jesus as follows:
"... there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him!"
John 3:34 (PME)
Throughout His ministry Jesus was given an incredible Divine anointing - and He employed this in an incredible way! Healings poured out of Him - the accounts of His ministry are full of instances of Him restoring the sick. Even the Syrophoenician woman (whom Jesus hesitated about, feeling that she was outside the scope of His mission), successfully received a cure for her daughter, as recorded in Mark 7:24-30.
Jesus' compassion was with Him even at the lowest points in His Life - for example, the night He was seized and taken away for trial. In the heat of the moment, one of His disciples pulled out a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. With His Crucifixion looming, how easy for Jesus to overlook this injury and do nothing about it. The human reaction would have been to be glad - those who were unjustly coming against Him were getting their deserts.
But Jesus once again showed Himself true to His calling; He reached out His hand and touched the person's head, restoring his ear. (Please see Luke 22:47-54 for the account of how our Lord responded with tender care despite being under great strain.)
His Love was not just given to individuals - to His family, the 12 disciples, the young and old He ministered to along the way - at the end He gives to everyone. For He didn't have to be there at the Cross; He chose to submit to the Crucifixion. (He could, after all, have scythed down the enemy with a curse.) But Jesus knew that His mission was not just to say: "Love your enemy," but to actively extend that Love to His enemy. So there was no resistance, just the deeply moving words: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." - Luke 23:34 (KJV).
And His Message to us? Was it not: "Live a life of unselfish love, don't count the cost, just keep going, and you'll be victorious."?
For Jesus' body could not be held by the grave. Healing, revived Life and new Spirit came into His crushed and defeated flesh. He went on to give His disciples further Guidance, and finally He was drawn up directly into Heaven (Acts 1:1-12).
^ 4. Jesus - Who is the Word of God, came in the Flesh.
When details of a person's life are foretold - and these details are then lived out in reality - surely we perceive God's miraculous hand.
Most people accept the following Bible statement as to where Jesus was born: "Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, in Judea ...." Matthew 2:1 (TLB). Yet Micah the prophet, 700 years before His Birth, could write the following:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah,
yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel;
whose goings forth have been from of old ...
Micah 5:2 (KJV)
(Note: The chapter divisions are sometimes a little different in the Protestant Bible, compared with the Hebrew and Catholic Bibles. For example, the above verse is given as Micah 5:1 in Hebrew and Catholic Bibles.)
Jesus, the man from Bethlehem, can be viewed as either the Messiah, or as an imposter wanting to be acclaimed as the Messiah. But could a fake have successfully met the conditions posed by all the other Bible Prophecies? For example, how would he be able to fix the price paid to Judas so that it matched the price foretold by the prophet? The price for Jesus' Betrayal was 30 pieces of silver. Long before, Zechariah was instructed by the Lord to go and work as a shepherd. This was the prophetic sequel:
So they weighed out for my price thirty pieces of silver.
And the Lord said to me, Cast it to the potter ...
the munificently miserable sum at which I [and My shepherd] am priced by them!
And I [Zechariah] took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter ...
Zechariah 11:12-13 (Amp.)
And as the Scripture tells us, that was Judas' price:
When Judas, His betrayer, saw that [Jesus] was condemned ... with remorse ... he brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders ...
Matthew 27:3 (Amp.)
Old Testament (OT) Prophecy covered so many other details brought about in Jesus' Life. He would be a Healer (Isaiah 35:1-6), a Teacher of Parables (Psalms 78:1-2), He would be crucified (Psalms 22 esp. vss.14-18), the grave would not hold Him (Psalms 16:10, Hosea 6:2). Such a wealth of pointers to Jesus being the Messiah - this can only mean one thing, surely?
In the Old Testament (OT) we also find described the Covenant which God had with the nation of Israel. The relationship between God and the Israelites was defined by the Law (as given to Moses on Mount Sinai). Under this Law Israel achieved right standing with God - for a time - but then rebelled. Again and again this happened. Surely, there was a missing ingredient?
The prophet Ezekiel was given a graphic picture of the people's dilemma, and its resolution. He saw a valley full of dry bones:
"These bones ... represent all the people of Israel ...
the Lord God says:
... I will put my Spirit into you, and you shall live ..."
Ezekiel 37:11-14 (TLB)
And as he watched, the bones gained flesh and skin and came back to life!
^ Jesus brought this Spirit, and a new path to life - based on a person's heart being right with God. This is the New Covenant. And the missing ingredient that it contained - Grace; He showed a Grace that even went so far as to be pinioned to the Cross:
For Moses gave us only the Law with its rigid demands and merciless justice,
while Jesus Christ brought us loving forgiveness as well.
John 1:17 (TLB)
The wonderful Truth that Jesus brought was rooted in the soil of the Old Covenant; yet this New Covenant was something that we could all abide in. The Torah - Judaic Law - consisted of 613 rules (most of them handed down to Moses at Mount Sinai). Jesus distilled these into just two Great Commandments: Love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34).
By homing-in on the essence of the Law, showing that Love fulfills the Law completely, Jesus brought the old Scriptures to life!
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us ...
John 1:14 (NAS 1975)
The above is really just a summary of this subject. If you're interested in following it up further, you might want to read Josh McDowell's book - Evidence that Demands a Verdict - Vol. 1(3).
He shows that Jesus fit the pattern which the Bible laid out for Him, with marvelous precision. (He lists more than 60 Prophecies which were given in the OT, and have since been fulfilled by/because of Jesus!)
The final proof of Jesus' Divinity is that the wonder-working Power - present with Christ and His Church in those early years - is still available in our day. Miracles are being worked, Healings given, people's lives are being changed!
Beginning with the Pentecostalist believers, the last 100 years have seen a great resurgence of "Signs and Wonders." God said these would accompany true belief. Empty church buildings and a pervading skepticism about matters of faith may suggest otherwise; but then changes in the heart are not going to grab newspaper headlines, are they? God often seems to prefer this quiet, low-key way of working.
The small, modest, church building may house the most alive branch of the Church; the drug addict who turns to the Lord can be the most dramatic witness to the healing Power of Christ. Thieves are being reformed, folk are rescued from homosexuality, former adulterers are becoming reliable husbands. (This writer for example is very grateful for all that has been done for him since God picked him up, alone and forlorn, in 1974.) Praise God that things don't happen by accident:
When Miracles like these take place (and others, such as the Life after Death experiences that some people have been blessed with), our faith should grow - not only because God is seen to be Real, and Able, but also because once again the Bible is proving to be True.
Through the prophet Joel, a statement had been made long ago letting us know that God would be sending Signs among us as the time for our Lord's Return drew near:
And afterward I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and upon the maidservants in those days will I pour out My Spirit.
Joel 2:28-29 (Amp.)
What is Salvation, and why is it so important? The OT tells us one thing, and the NT changes the perspective somewhat, so we need to be clear on this subject.
The inspired Scriptures in the Jewish Tanach (or OT) begin with a clear affirmation that God is the Creative Genius on Whom the rest of the universe depends. Then as the Law, Prophets, and Writings (the three divisions of the Tanach) unfold, they show that this Great God is a Saving God as well. So while "Salvation" here is not the major issue it is in the NT, many graphic descriptions of heavenly rescues are given. We see people in need, crying out to the Lord, and obtaining from Him a wonderful turnaround in their situation.
The need for salvation of an individual is seen clearly in the psalms though. For example, the Psalmist-King David makes this ringing statement of faith:
O LORD, how many are my adversaries! Many rise up against me!But the greatest of the OT Scriptures on the subject look to God as Savior of the whole community. This is shown in the following verses, addressed to all those belonging to Jerusalem:
Many are saying of me, "There is no salvation for him in God."
But you, O LORD, are my shield; my glory, you lift up my head!
Psalms 3:2-4 (NAB)
'Fear thou not;It could be argued that in these passages we are actually hearing a higher call than the one the NT focuses on. For the Tanach is teaching us that we cannot consider ourselves fully "saved" as long as there are fellow human beings who are suffering and in need of rescue.
O Zion, let not thy hands be slack.
The LORD thy God is in the midst of thee,
A Mighty One who will save ...'
... at that time will I gather you;
For I will make you to be a name and a praise
Among all the peoples of the earth,
When I turn your captivity before your eyes,
Saith the LORD.
Zephaniah 3:16-17, 20 (JPS)
Typically then in the Tanach, salvation is described in terms of situations that people meet in their daily lives. The enemies tend to be other nations, or wild animals, or hunger, or thirst, rather than spiritual enemies.
Jesus came down to offer each person a more sure Hope. His Life was dedicated to preaching the Gospel of a Personal Salvation - His very Name in Hebrew: Yeshua, means Savior. We learn from Him that more often than not, the "enemy" we need to be rescued from is within - it is our own selfish spirit that opposes us.
He taught us that our Salvation rests in the Kingdom of God. He was not so concerned about our feeling rich in this world's sense. He desires that we look to the long haul and see our satisfactions there. For example, this is one of His teachings from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Happy are those who are persecuted because they are good, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs."Salvation is the confident assurance that God will meet your true needs no matter what happens to you - in this world, in the world to come, and for all eternity! With Salvation comes the sure knowledge that life is purposeful. (Even when things are against us we can know this.) We have a certainty that we are loved by a Great God Who is also fair beyond imagining.
Matthew 5:10 (TLB)
^ The decision to accept Salvation is more important than any other decision a person makes in their entire life. Yes, more vital than a decision about marriage even, or about anything else. Why? Because it looks beyond our natural lifespan of 70 years or whatever we are given, and acknowledges our linkage with the Eternal One.
Salvation is the path to real health, life-satisfaction, and a lasting joy. And it is that joy which makes us victors over those things that have plagued us in the past. To learn more about how to receive Salvation, please see chapter 11, which is devoted to this subject. Further, there are many excellent websites that specialize in teaching about Salvation(4).
As a child, this writer learned at one point that God is the Answer. Jesus was invited to lead his life, but the boy's level of trust in his Savior was not high enough and he wandered off.
What follows is unsavory but should be told because it illustrates how not to live! Becoming an atheist, he deceived himself and others. Marriage was not enough for him - he got involved in sex sin and finally, the breakup of his marriage. Hurriedly, he moved from Britain to the United States.
Alone and unhappy, as he deserved to be, the writer promptly had a mental breakdown! Then God moved. First joining him to the wife he should have waited for in the first place; then in His Kindness Christ saved him.
And Jesus changed him. Much of the old lust, arrogance, and greed went. He was taught about the real riches - the treasure of the heart - about the value of giving, and about how God's Truth is set down for us as Scripture. He learned that Jesus provides for our need - in every circumstance. This was proved over and over in the new family that God had meant all along that he should be a part of!
Despite a rough road sometimes, this born again believer is sure that there is no other way to go. His wife Pat, son Josh, and he himself have been blessed time after time. It has been proved to him beyond doubt that Jesus is today the same Savior Who walked the hills of Galilee.
When you trust Jesus, then God honors that trust. If you will only try out what Jesus taught us - namely to accept God by faith - then you will be abundantly blessed for that faith.
If this big step is too much at this time, then the following is suggested: Read your Bible - in a questioning way. Have a look at some of the prophecies - were they fulfilled in practice?
If so, then is there not a guiding hand behind them? Probe God's Miracles. Examine God's Promises. Does God carry them out? (Millions of Christians are among those who can attest to the fact that God does indeed carry them out.) If you pray and then ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand the Scriptures, and how to obtain the Light of Christ in your own life, you may be surprised how glad you are.
For you will then open yourself up to new life! Not for nothing did Jesus say that you can be born again. He knew that if a person puts God at the center of their life, then wonderful things start to happen. The old, self-centered stuff drops away, and a fresh new vigor that touches every activity, comes in. Praise God!
Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art Mine.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee ...
Isaiah 43:1-2 (JPS)
Now, either He was right or He was nutty! (As C. S. Lewis pointed out in his book Mere Christianity.) So there's no middle way. The facts suggest that He was right. But God is willing to go further than this - God is ready to prove that Jesus is Able to do for us today what He did for His disciples then. All we need is the courage to put our trust in that ability!
|The writer is at:|